Sony Xperia XZ1
CHRIS MARTIN gets his hands on Sony’s latest handset
IFA always means new gadgets and you can rely on Sony to bring a few to the party. This year is no exception and the firm released three new Xperia phones – the XZ1, XZ1 Compact and XA1 Plus. Over the following pages we look at the XZ1 (£599). For more on Sony’s Xperia XZ1 Compact go to page 62.
Over the years, Sony has developed a style of smartphone design that’s instantly recognizable. Xperia devices have a distinctive character which helps somewhat in the crowded market. The XZ1 is certainly no departure from what we’ve seen before. It is a continuation of it which has pros and cons.
We like the ‘Loop Surface’ design, which incorporates a metal unibody chassis and a Gorilla Glass 5 front. Overall, the phone looks like its predecessor but with small improvements so the metal rear cover gets rid of the slightly ugly strip along the bottom of the XZ.
Sony says the tweaked design is especially strong and is anti-twist and anti-bend. It does feel solid to us during some hands-on time.
As you would expect Sony continues to offer waterproofing so the XZ1 is IP65/68 rated so it’s fully dunkable in fresh water. There’s also a fingerprint scanner neatly engineered into the power button on the side.
We did mention there are cons and that’s when it comes to the bezels. With the tiny bezels on offer with the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6, Sony’s screen-tobody ratio looks even worse than normal. The XZ1 is quite a big device for a phone with a 5.2in screen.
The Xperia XZ1 will be available in a range of colours including Black, Moonlit Blue, Venus Pink and Warm Silver.
While the design is pretty similar to last year’s model, the XZ1 has a number of upgrades in the hardware department to bring it up to date.
The screen remains at 5.2in so it’s a smaller option compared to the XZ Premium. The resolution is also Full HD which Sony is sticking to on most phones to help with battery life.
However, the XZ1’s display supports HDR (High Dynamic Range) for improved elements like colour and contrast. It can look a bit over the top at times but is generally well regarded.
The issue, as usual, is that you need to be watching HDR content to take advantage of the technology and there’s still not a huge amount available. That said, Sony said that Netflix HDR content will be available on the device at launch.
That’s on top of Amazon Prime Video which was previously the only way to watch HDR content.
Processor, memory and storage
A 12-month refresh wouldn’t really be a refresh without some new internal components and the headline here is that the Xperia XZ1 is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, the firm’s flagship mobile platform.
That’s the same as the XZ Premium and other topend phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Note8 (in some markets). Sony might be offering the cheapest phones with the 835 in the XZ1 and XZ1 Compact.
There’s 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage which is double its predecessor and matches the XZ Premium. Sony faithfully offers expandable storage in the form of a microSD card slot so you can add more anyway.
Connectivity and audio
Sony doesn’t go down the route Samsung takes by adding features such as a heart rate monitor and iris scanner. Instead, it focuses on audio like HTC does.
To that end, the Xperia XZ1 has front facing stereo speakers with more sound pressure than any phone Sony has made before. It was certainly loud during a demonstration but we’ll test quality further when we have a sample.
Other features include Hi-Res audio support, an LDAC, Qualcomm aptX Bluetooth and DSEE HX with DNC which will essentially upscale compressed files like MP3 to provide better quality.
There is, of course, a headphone jack and Sony has even made some new headphones to compliment the phone with harmonized colours.
Photography remains a key area for Sony when it comes to selling phones and we’re pleased to see the physical camera/shutter button lives on.
The resolution might have dropped from 23- to 19Mp but overall the camera is an improvement as shown in the XZ Premium. Larger pixels mean better low light performance, for example.
What’s good to see is that the XZ1 gets features from the XZ Premium as well as some new ones.
Users will be able to make use of the 960fps super slow motion mode without splashing out on the Premium. It’s the highest frame rate on any phone, but you can only record at that rate for one second.
Other neat features include Predictive Capture which will take some photos before you hit the button so you don’t miss an important moment and Smile Shutter which will automatically capture when it detects someone is smiling.
Autofocus burst mode is perhaps the most impressive (subject to proper testing) as it can shoot 10 photos per second all while focusing on a moving subject. You can shoot for up to 10 seconds simply by holding the button down and select what frames you want to keep or even make a short video clip from them.
One of the main new elements Sony is shouting about, though, is 3D scanning. There’s no technical hardware wizardry going on but a preloaded app means you can scan things like people heads or inanimate objects with the camera.
You can then share these scans online, although users will have to view them on a web page rather than natively on social media sites like Facebook, set them as a live wallpaper or even order them to be printed into a 3D model by a third party.
It’s all pretty impressive but we can’t imagine anyone using it more than a handful of times just
for fun or pure intrigue. At the front remains a 13Mp camera for all those selfies and it seems decent from some hands-on time.
Following in Samsung’s footsteps with the Note8, Sony has dropped the battery capacity from 2900- to 2,700mAh for the Xperia XZ1.
Even so, Sony promises all day battery life for the lifespan of the phone. There’s no wireless charging so you’ll have to make do with USB-C including Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0.
Unlike the Note8, the Xperia XZ1 will be one of the first phones to ship with Android Oreo preloaded – hence why the release date is currently unknown.
On the surface, there’s not a lot that is different compared to Nougat and that’s partly because Oreo isn’t a major new version of the mobile operating system. Oreo brings improvements and new features such as faster boot times, autofill logins, better battery life and picture-in-picture for a different kind of multitasking.
Perhaps the bigger lure when it comes to software is Sony’s own apps such as Walkman and PS4 Remote Play, which add value, especially for those with a PlayStation.